Imbolc, or Brigid, or whatever name it goes by, is the quarter-day holiday between winter solstice and spring equinox. It's probably closer to the middle of winter than Midwinter, and it usually carries a feeling of continuance for me. Nothing big seems to change around Imbolc; when winter feels like sleep, Imbolc is the snooze alarm that says things will continue to sleep, and when winter seems like a dogged slog through slush, Imbolc is like a half-way signpost. It was cold before, it'll be cold tomorrow. Right?
What this way of looking at Imbolc misses is the important changes under the snow. Last year I did a small ceremony that made me more aware of this meaning to Imbolc: right now, though we can't see it, the first push of growth is starting. We won't see bulbs growing for weeks, flowers not for months, and spring--well, spring depends on the whim of cold snaps and late frosts. But what we don't see is the subtle switch from the dormant seed to the preparations for growth: from mere survival to anticipation.
One of my favorite fables is that of Frederick. I was reminded of it by a few other Pagan bloggers a week or so ago (Chas Clifton, I think, though I've lost the link). It's a wonderful story, but looking at it during Imbolc makes me think that it's a good story for this holiday. The mice go from happy feasting to mere survival--they have more than enough food to live through the winter, but their days are gray and dull. It is the creative spark that Frederick gathered, the colors and words and sunlight, that enlivens the mice again and reminds them of the joy and beauty in the world.
This, I think, is why poetry, creativity, and crafting are honored at this time of year. We've made it through the dark times, and proved to ourselves that we can survive. But if winter is more than just a test, more than something to be endured, then it needs the words and colors and light that creative souls have gathered through the year.
So what is it that Imbolc gives, and what are we giving in return? Imbolc gives us what seems like the biggest gag gift of all: more winter! More snow, more ice, more gray skies and a long time before we'll see green again. But hidden in that is the miracle that continuance is change: that "more winter" is not just extra cold time, but time that wakens things and readies them to grow. What we give in return is our creativity and inspiration, turning "just more winter" into creations of words and images.
It is these gifts that transform winter from a test to be weathered into a season with its own mysteries and strengths.